Through the looking-glass: on entering the world of Georges Mazilu

A cold grey afternoon in Amsterdam: dark human shapes scurrying along the Kalver Street huddling under black windblown umbrellas. I am stopped in my tracks by the illuminated window of an art gallery. Inside, glowing in a luminosity of its own, a picture sits on an easel, defying the drabness of the day, the pressures of time and space, inviting-demanding — to be acknowledged. I leave the bustling world outside and find myself drawn inside. As in a love affair, I know this is the beginning of a relationship that cannot easily come to an end again. It is dangerous, because it admits of no compromise and of no easy way out. It is exacting and mysterious. It is also exhilarating. It is my first encounter with the work of Georges Mazilu.

The painting lures me closer, sucks me into its vortex the way a moth is drawn to the essence of light. In the foreground, right, a model, who might just as well be Venus or a common and saucy village girl; to the left cluster of three figures who seem obliged, in one way or another, to react to her presence: a gnome-like little girl with a gesture of supplication, a seated man who peers at her through a tube, with a gaze that might be either aesthetic and painterly or possessive and voyeuristic; an abject, guilty, perhaps older man who tries to turn his gaze away (because he cannot cope with the affirmation of her presence?). In what seems like supreme indifference, she has turned her back on them as she proceeds with a process of disrobing which may or may not be innocent. She cannot care less about them: she may not even be aware of their presence. They, on the other hand, cannot ignore her. Within the frame of the picture, in the space she shares with them, fatally linked to them through the subtle colouring of the background in which all conventional dimensions have been dissolved, her presence has unsettled them as profoundly as the picture unsettles the spectator coming to it from the outside.

Every brush-stroke in the painting has been executed with precision, in rare technical mastery; each figure is defined meticulously. Yet the picture is totally enigmatic. There are no ready equations, no easy symbolic apparatus with which one can prise meanings from it. It contains the mystery of life itself: a life in which everything exists in terms of relations — the dialogue between female and male, between interior and exterior, between light and shadow, between figure and abstraction, between sexuality and fear, terror and tenderness, memory and expectation.

In the voyeur of the picture, as in the figure of the painter in Las Meninas, I disconcertingly find myself implicated; my responsibility is invoked — a human responsibility for beauty and for the world, for desire and fear, for gratification and frustration. It is not simply a picture about the possibilities, the temptations, ultimately the insoluble mystery of love, but a demonstration and an activation of it.

As time goes by I will discover these qualities in more and more of Georges Mazilu’s other work. A little cavalier, simultaneously brave and funny, comical and infinitely sad, riding his mount (a horse? an aardvark? Rocinante?) below a green curtain which suddenly interrogates the assumption of an outdoor scene and shifts it inside, into the recesses of the mind. A square window in a scene which may be set either in a room or in a street, challenges both assumptions. A vainglorious carnival king on closer inspection becomes an onion-like figure whose reality can be peeled, layer after layer, leaving one with nothing more but make-believe and illusion and possibility. Portraits of ethereal nymphs dissolving in their diaphanous wraps. Curious humanoid or animals or vegetal forms infused with unexpected religiosity. Faces luminous as moons, shining not with reflected light but from the inside. Figures that hesitate on the threshold of the subtly coloured backgrounds from which they have emerged and towards which they seem ready to return. The dialogue with the dark. The dialogue with light. The dialogue with the interminable silence of things.

A dialogue, too, of the late 20th century with a procession from the past: with Bosch, sometimes Brueghel, the fantastic imagery of the Middle Ages; or with the surrealists, with creatures from hallucinations or from A Mid-summer Night’s Dream; Goya in conversation with Dalí, Klee flirting with Leonor Fini. But it serves no purpose to play with names. Mazilu’s originality, even when he mockingly inserts himself in an admirable and exciting tradition, lies in moving beyond what has been done, in painting precisely what Bosch or Redon or Dalí have not imagined. This is the challenge to which each picture responds, each constituting a ludic leap of the imagination, or of faith, into the dark of the as yet unimaginable: it is this motion towards ‘something beyond, ’this act of ‘crossing over,’ of defying limits and boundaries, that defines the dynamics, and the dynamism, of an art that dazzles as much through its technical virtuosity as the subtlety and outrage of its imagination.

— Andre Brink

Historical time is spiral-like. This is why our privileged relationship with the past is less due to proximity then (sic) to a kind of short-circuit. The paintings of Georges Mazilu, more than any other, make this obvious to us by a para-doxical contact between our twentieth century and the fifteenth century of the monsters of Bosch, as obvious as crystal clear Florentine skies which stand out in the vaults of convent ceilings. There is a doubtless kinship between their chaos and ours, that of refinement and savagery, that of insolent wealth at the same time as atrocious misery, energy and anguish, recklessness and despair. Twinned times of uncontrollable discoveries and crazed dreams in the void.

Art, then, is a mirror. Does it deform? Not really. Rather, it’s a magic mirror in which we hesitate, even refuse, to recognise ourselves. Backing off, fascinated by the images that this magician, the artist, makes appear under a charm which he is only ever half-conscious of.

Georges Mazilu is with no doubt one of those painters, a mage and a seer.

But is it only the past which imposes the visions he has fixed on canvas?

As in our dream-like figments, aren’t they a surreally and absurdly synthesized and telescoped present as well as future that has been weighed down by all our terors (sic)? Infernal visions? Certainly! But more a terrestrial hell—like that of a terrestrial paradise—the wrong side of the Promised Land. Impassive, frightful countenances, beings clothed in flesh so “normal” that they seem surprised by our own surprise! After all they are just like the faces we see on trains and buses. Denied and disembodied corpses which have become artificial limbs! The prospects of a future where humans will be utilitarianly reduced to heads and body members, and indeed, quite frankly, sexual organs, too.

Ultimately there would be only anthropomorphic structures, like inexistant knights such as those of Italo Calvino. Fortunately, excess at this point raises tension by loosing humor, quite the same as the concave-convex mirrors or a carnival fun-house which are supposed to show us the grotesque side of ourselves, or even like King Ubu marionettes that make us laugh at the hidden shame of our deepest secrets. Georges Mazilu—doesn’t he come from that Rumania which today is so much like–merdre—an Ubu kingdom of absurdity. But laugh only for a moment, for the smile will freeze on your face in a grin or a grimace! As soon as the demon’s dance is finished the devil abruptly stops the game.

No! These beings are not us! What, then? Mutants as well as animals? Strange creatures from afar, or the off-shoot of some kind of mutation? {Aren’t some even like slimy organic foetal substances?)

Is this biological socery (sic)? The kingdoms and the species have become mixed up. It’s impossible to say if these madonnas or princeesses (sic) with pure faces are victims of a spell, or on the contrary, have just escaped from a cocoon to fly off like human butterflies.

Nothing of all this comes from our known universe, or from our myths assimilated into our culture so long ago. This is a genuine invention made for exorcising the worst which from now on is haunting humanity which dares no longer to dream of happiness. We are thrown to dizzying, denaturing heights that only human beings are capable of. Mazilu’s images are a trap, an eternal movement of surrealism. And they even surpass their plastic medium with their smashed cameos in explosions of pure color, stretched to perfection like his trompe l’oeils, or the effectiveness of his work in relief. If your glance is captured you wont (sic) to be able to tear your eyes away. You will be haunted forever. The painter’s nightmares are become our sphinxes (sic). The response that we give to their questions will decide our fate.

Michel Lequenne, “Where do the ‘devyls’ of Georges Mazilu come from?” Georges Mazilu: peintures et dessins réalisés de 1984 à 1989. Paris, France: Georges Mazilu, 1989.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!